Lambeth has just launched its new strategy to tackle health inequalities in the borough writes Jim Dickson, Labour’s Cabinet Member for Healthier and Stronger Communities….
On the face of it this may seem a strange time to launch a fresh strategy to tackle health inequality in Lambeth. Local health services are under a sustained attack from the government including large and arbitrary cuts in the public health grants which help to keep us all well. And these come on top of the continued underfunding of our excellent local hospitals which help to get us better when we do get sick or require help.
So it is vital we continue to campaign to make the case for a properly funded NHS and to hold the government to account for their self-defeating cuts to health investment and services including £3m raided from public health and leaving Kings College Hospital with a financial deficit running into millions. But we also owe it to Lambeth residents to do more than that. The continuing stark divide between the life expectancy of the best off in our community and the worst who, shockingly, might expect to live for 5 fewer years, and the persistence of a range of conditions from asthma, obesity and diabetes to killers such as cardio vascular disease and cancer mean that we must continue to transform the way local health services operate in our borough.
There is already a great track record of successful work between the council, health commissioners, GPs and service providers to build on. The Living Well Network designed in partnership with mental health service users is investing more in prevention and as a result has seen an 80% reduction in people requiring acute psychiatric care in only 2 years. Greater collaboration between GPs, hospitals, community and care services, enabling more and better treatment at home, means we have been seeing the numbers of emergency admissions of older people come down, freeing up space in wards. Innovative approaches to testing for STIs - including SH24 the UK’s first online sexual health service developed by Lambeth and Southwark public health - are ensuring more people at risk can be treated quickly and at lower cost. Our Lambeth Early Action Partnership is a £40m investment in giving young children a better start in the borough’s four most deprived wards.
But there is much more to do. BME residents are hugely over represented in the mental health system so we’re pressing ahead with creating a new Black Wellbeing Partnership to change attitudes, improve prevention and to ensure better outcomes for black residents. Our work with London’s newly elected Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan to improve Lambeth’s poor Air Quality can make a major difference to our residents’ health. Lambeth also tops a league in which we don’t want to feature, that of the proportion of residents with HIV and with STIs. But our leadership of the London wide HIV prevention programme and local recommissioning with Southwark and Lewisham of sexual health promotion services are starting to raise awareness and positively change behaviours.
The refreshed health and wellbeing strategy makes clear that we’ve got to focus all our public services across the borough more closely on preventing ill health and heading off the need for more costly interventions up the line, with our highly active and engaged Lambeth communities playing a full part. By bringing together health, social care, GPs and community services in new joined up ‘care networks’ in partnership with patients, we can start to put the requirements of residents centre stage. Crucially that also means investing in residents’ wellbeing across the board including the sport, culture and leisure activities which keep people well, combatting loneliness and isolation particularly for older people and providing better support for Lambeth’s heroic army of unpaid carers. There’s also a major opportunity for us to use our responsibility to manage and invest in the borough’s housing stock to improve neighbourhoods, help keep people warm and healthy and to maintain their social networks.
Nothing can be a bigger priority than the health of all Lambeth’s residents. No agenda is more urgent than acting now to improve the lives of the poorest in the borough. Despite obstacles placed in our path by the government, Labour in Lambeth is finding innovative ways to deliver the transformation in health outcomes that we all need.